Trophy Returns to Heritage Drill Team 35 Years Later
PhotoGRAPHY by Lucas Moore
“A band of misfits.”
Les Womack doesn’t sugarcoat how he describes his Heritage High School JROTC unit in 1981. But the following year, those misfits were in for a rude awakening.
David Rose, a no-nonsense Vietnam veteran, had just finished 20 years of active duty and needed a new focus. He took on the role as the instructor of the Heritage JROTC unit, and with it, focused on rebuilding the competitive drill team.
When Rose came on the scene, “There had been a trophy won here or there. Mostly they were regarded as participation trophies. The bar had not been set that high,” said Womack.
That wasn’t good enough for Rose.
By 1983, the unit was competing at a high level and getting national attention. Then in 1984, that same “band of misfits” took home the top title at the National High School Drill Team Championships in Orlando, Fla. “It really put the program on the map for many years to come,” said Womack. “That was the first, but wouldn’t be the last national championship the unit would enjoy.”
Staying connected to Heritage through the years, Womack, who now lives in Forest with his family, was asked to come to the school years ago as staff purged old trophies from the packed display cases. Womack took home that national trophy and two first place trophies and put them in his garage where they sat—until recently, when history started repeating itself.
There is a new Marine in charge of the Heritage JROTC unit—and, like Rose, he is also trying to shake things up. Sgt. Major Dave Eldridge, a friend of Womack’s, voiced his frustration about the lack of memorabilia from years’ past in the new Heritage building. “I told him that I was in possession of, in my humble opinion, one of the most important keepsakes in the history of the unit,” Womack said.
One thing led to another, phone calls were made, and a reunion of sorts was in the works to bring that 1984 National Championship Team together—and those trophies back where they belonged. On Oct. 1, those former “misfits,” along with the hard charging leader who turned them around, presented the three trophies to the current Heritage JROTC unit.
Rose was there to motivate and inspire—his tone isn’t as aggressive as it used to be. But with the gentle tone of a grandfather, he encouraged the young cadets to “set your goals and achieve them… and listen to your sergeant.” The members of that 1984 team shared their words of wisdom as well, many shedding tears over how Rose changed their life.
Drill team season is ramping up, and Womack is hopeful that by bringing these pieces of history home, the cadets will add more trophies to their collection in the future. “We hope that this motivates and challenges the students to rise to a new level that they may not have deemed possible.”